Improved memory, longer lifespan, sharpened concentration, reduced stress, better weight control, boosted sex life, stronger immunity system, improved complexion, lower chance of heart disease and diabetes…
We’re not talking the effects of a groundbreaking new wonder drug here – this is the potential bounty that awaits if you can get yourself a quality eight-hour kip every night.
And that’s just the tip of the iceberg. Growth hormones are naturally released during sleep, which aid muscle recovery and growth, which can, in turn, boost athletic performance. Everyone’s a winner.
So if you’re struggling with your shut-eye, these tips could help…
1. Don’t be a skinflint
Considering you spend a third of your life in bed, it’s worth throwing a few quid at a quality mattress and bedding. During the Tour de France, Team Sky discard the hotel mattresses, duvets and pillows and make sure their cyclists have beds made up with their own hypoallergenic bedding each night. This helps them get a decent kip, enabling their bodies to recover better.
They’ve won three of the last four – ’nuff said.
2. ‘Panpipe Moods Vol. VII’
Okay, so it doesn’t have to be that naff, but relaxing music has been proven to reduce sympathetic nervous system activity, decrease anxiety, lower heart- and respiratory-rate and boost muscle relaxation. All pretty useful for an eight-hour nod-off.
Team Sky cyclists’ pillows contain in-built iPod speakers
Those Team Sky cyclists we mentioned above? Their pillows contain in-built iPod speakers. So whether your soundtrack of choice is dolphin sounds or an Ibiza chill-out mix, hit play, close your eyes and enjoy.
3. Turn to tech
There are plenty of apps designed to help boost sleep by tracking your sleep cycles and efficiency, guiding you through relaxing breathing exercises, logging a diary of your sleep patterns and more.
One of the leading apps, Sleep Genius, emits ‘acoustically modified music’ designed to relax breathing, lower heart-rate and tune the brain into natural sleep rhythms. It was developed in the US using research into how to help astronauts sleep. If it’s good enough for NASA…
4. Balance your breathing
Learn to lengthen your exhale, so breathe in for a count of three and out for a count of five, several times during the day and before bed.
“Make it gentle, not a harsh Darth Vader breath!”
“Make it gentle, not a harsh Darth Vader breath!” says leading yoga sleep expert Lisa Sanfilippo. “A lot of people can’t sleep because their nervous system is hyper-aroused. This breathing exercise trains your nervous system to go into relaxation mode, so when you arrive at bedtime your system understands patterns of rest better. Yogis call this the lengthened exhalation version of the Ujjayi breath.”
5. Pop a pill
No, we’re not advocating a raging Temazepam habit, we’re talking herbal supplements here. Calming chamomile, anxiety-busting passionflower and lemon balm, and Valerian (known as ‘nature’s tranquiliser’), are all thought to aid and improve the quality of your sleep and can be picked up at most health food shops.
Not a pill-popper? Try them in a tea instead.
6. Top up the cheeseboard
“Contrary to popular belief, dairy foods aren’t more likely to give you nightmares, and may actually help you get a good night’s sleep,” says nutritionist Charlotte Stirling-Reed. “Cheese contains tryptophan, which aids the production of sleep hormones – as do turkey, nuts and seeds.”
“Cheese contains tryptophan, which aids the production of sleep hormones”
Charlotte also advises avoiding stimulants like caffeine and sugar near bedtime, and says there are no hard and fast rules about optimum eating times: “It’s best to find the eating pattern that works best for you and stick to it.”
7. Light up (candles, we mean candles)
“There are countless studies that prove the relaxing and sleep-inducing qualities of lavender,” says aromatherapy expert and Neom founder Nicola Elliott. “Aromatherapy candles, diffusers, bath oils and pillow sprays often use a blend of essential oils and Neom’s Tranquility fragrance from the Scent to Sleep range is a sedative blend of lavender, jasmine and fresh basil.”
Nicola also recommends avoiding energy-boosting citrus oils, such as lemon and grapefruit, in the evenings.
8. Have a digital detox
The pineal gland in the brain, which is responsible for releasing the sleep-inducing hormone melatonin, can be impeded by light, especially blue light. If enough of the blue stuff hits the eye, the gland can stop releasing the hormone and, hey presto, you’re a one-way street out of Nodsville.
Ditch the late-night Twitter sessions and Netflix binges
So ditch the late-night Twitter sessions and Netflix binges and properly switch off all electronics in your room, well before lights out.
9. Stretch it out
Try the wide-legged forward bend yoga pose. Stand facing the side of your sofa or bed, widen your feet, bend your knees slightly, bend forward, relax your shoulders and let your forehead and arms rest on the bed, or if you’re flexible enough move your head and arms to the floor.
Yoga sleep expert Lisa Sanfilippo explains, “This stretches out the spinal nerves and muscles and also puts pressure on the baroreceptors in the lungs, which has a restorative effect and clears your head. Start by holding that position for a minute, breathing evenly, and build up to three minutes, an hour before bed.”